(June 17, 2012) In just the last month, popular boxer Paul Williams was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a motorcycle accident, top fighter Floyd Mayweather began serving a 90-day jail sentence, a stint his lawyer claims has already harmed the fighter’s health, and a major sanctioning body is reviewing the decision in Manny Pacquiao’s controversial loss to Timothy Bradley June 9.

With two of boxing’s top fighters currently reeling and one up and coming boxer currently hospitalized, is the sport of boxing headed for a serious slump? AFRO sports writers Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley debate.

Riley: The last two months have struck a crucial blow to the sport as we know it. Mayweather’s career was already winding down before he began serving his three-month jail term, and if his lawyer’s claims are accurate, we could see a different-looking Mayweather once he returns. Pacquiao’s loss may not have been as much of a fluke as many claim. Apparently, judges are no longer inclined to simply write off 12-round victories in favor of the former welterweight champion due to his popularity. And at age 33, Pacquiao, has already made it known that he has ambitions outside of boxing; a post-fight career that could include singing and politics. With Mayweather and Pacquiao clearly on their way out, boxing is in serious trouble.

Green: Boxing will be fine. We still have another two to three years of top performance from Mayweather and Pacquiao and there’s always a new challenger ready to claim the spotlight. Losing Paul Williams was tough as he was one of my favorites, but the sport is in good hands. Mayweather and Pacquiao aren’t the only guys fighting, although America tends to think that way. There’s Joe Calzaghe (45-0, 32 KOs), Juan Manuel Marquez (48-4-1, 35 KOs), Chad Dawson (26-0, 17 KOs) and Miguel Cotto (32-1, 26 KOs) are all rising in the ranks.

Riley: Despite that list of good fighters, boxing has always been a popularity contest. No matter how good a fighter may be, name recognition drives ticket sales and pay-per-view. Marquez, Calzaghe and Cotto are all familiar names to fight fans, but are they household names? No—and they may never be. If you take the two most famous fighters out the equation, the sport is bound to suffer.

Green: I felt the same when the careers of Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis were winding down but boxing found a way to survive as Mayweather and Pacquiao later emerged. Someone always emerges, that’s just the way it is. The public just seems to gravitate to the next best fighter in line once the top dog leaves. Who knows, Timothy Bradley may surface as the next best thing, since after all Riley, he did defeat your boy.
Riley: That remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t rule it out. The jury is still out on how legitimate that decision was, so let’s not even go there. You can’t possibly agree that the last two months have been good for the state of boxing with a trio of fighters suffering black eyes to their careers, figuratively. We’ll nevertheless see good fighters going forward, that’s for sure, but will we see the level of skill that we see in Mayweather or the fierceness in Pacquiao? I don’t think we will. The sport has to find something to offer because we’re dangerously close to seeing one of the great pastimes sink before our eyes.

Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley

AFRO Sports Desk